Alberta licenses private examiners to reduce road-test backlog

The Alberta government plans to license private driving examiners to reduce a weeks-long backlog of road tests for new drivers.

Switch from private to public system started March 1

Transportation Minster Ric McIver says Albertans are frustrated with long waits to get driving tests. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

The Alberta government plans to license 20 private driver examiners to reduce a weeks-long backlog of road tests for new drivers.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver said the delays were caused by the previous NDP government's decision to end the privatized system introduced in 1993. 

"The previous government rushed to launch a government-run road test system and ended up with only half the required driver examiners in place to run the system when it started in March of this year," Transportation Minister Ric McIver said at a news conference in Edmonton on Thursday. 

"Albertans have had to wait in some cases up to 12 weeks to take a road test."

At its peak, the backlog was 36,000 tests. Last week, it sat at 28,000, McIver said.

Summer is the busiest time of year for tests as agricultural workers, school bus drivers and motorcycle riders are also seeking tests.

McIver said the additional examiners could perform an addition 3,000 tests each month. Fort McMurray, Calgary and Edmonton have the largest backlogs. Private and government testers will be moved to areas where they can best reduce delays. 

The NDP government announced the switch from a private to public system in October 2018. Brian Mason, the transportation minister of the day, said the government received an average of seven complaints a day about driving examiners. 

The complaints ranged from harassment to excessive fees and unprofessional behaviour. Five examiners had their certifications revoked after getting more than seven demerit points on their licences, according to documents obtained by CBC under a freedom of information request. 

Chris Nielsen, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Decore, said an April 2018 bus crash that killed 16 and injured 13 in Humboldt, Sask., compelled the previous government to move quickly to improve the driver examination system. He said some of the private examiners didn't move over to the public system when the switch was made. 

He said the NDP plans to keep a close eye on the new government's use of private examiners to ensure standards don't slip. 

"We have to ensure that our roads are safe as they can be, but that means we need a system that's delivered consistently right across the province," Nielsen said. 

McIver said the private examiners will have to undergo a criminal records check and have a clean driving record. He said preference will be given to applicants with examining experience. 

The examining licences will be issued for no longer than two years. 

McIver said it was too soon to say whether private examiners will remain part of the system, as the intention is to use them as a temporary measure to get caught up.

The government is currently reviewing the switch from a private to public system.